Why does the Torah begin with the story of creation? Rashi (Rabbi Shlomo Yitzhaki, France, 11th/12th century) answers the question apologetically: We start with the universal and move towards the particular as a way to prevent or respond to an attack.
Rashi’s commentary on the Torah is considered preeminent, exhaustive, and is often the first point of reference for those exploring Torah on a deeper level. This answer makes sense, but it also feels… a bit dry? A bit disappointing, even? Surely this is not the only reason to begin at, well, the beginning.
The role of water in this parshah is striking. The waters are divided (1:7), dew rises up (2:6), and a river flows forth from Eden (2:10). In the Zohar, the core text of Jewish mysticism, this attention to water, in particular the river in the final verse above is called upon repeatedly. Melila Helner-Eshed, a contemporary scholar of the Zohar refers to this particular verse as “A zoharic code, encapsulating a conception of the dynamic structure of divinity and consciousness”. While this is not a response to this question, it does provide a compelling option. We begin here to notice the flow of things, to see ourselves in a broader context, and indeed, so others might see us alongside them. There is potential in this starting point, and where it goes may surprise us in more ways than we might think.
In the words of Lavar Burton, “You don’t have to take my word for it”: